Education

DPS meal sites are underutilized, could impact food service worker jobs

Posted October 1, 2020 7:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2020 9:15 p.m. EDT

— A major effort is underway in Durham to save the jobs of food service workers.

Meal distribution sites are being underutilized, said Durham Public Schools leaders, who are exploring all options to prevent layoffs. Cafeteria workers are doing all they can to ensure food security during a pandemic.

“Normally, we’d be feeding about 20,000 kids a day, and that’s our revenue source, and we still have the same amount of staff regardless of how many students were feeding," said James Keaten, the director of School Nutrition Services for the district.

With children learning online at home, the program now serves only 1,200 children, on average. Keaten said the need has not declined, but reaching students has been more difficult.

“We are constantly realigning and reassigning people, but we’re trying to make sure everyone stays in an assignment and stays employed," he added.

The federally-funded program reimburses Durham Public Schools for each family that receives food.

“At a certain point, we will have to go into our own pockets to pay for this federally-funded program, and there’s only so far that we can go," said DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth.

"We want to avoid layoffs, if at all possible," he added. "With resources stretched thin, local organizations like Eat NC are helping increase awareness and accessibility by offering food delivery services."

“We’ve had, at this point, almost 900 families submit a request. I think we’re now at around the 300 mark in just the school meal delivery program," said Linden Thayer, an organizer of Eat NC.

“As of (Wednesday), we had our highest count and served 6,020 kids," Keaten said. The delivery service is making a big difference, and the staff is hoping this trend continues.

“As long as people continue to come out and get meals and our participation increases, then we can keep our staff. It generally goes back into the local economy," Keaten said.

The goal is to reach about 8,000 students a day to sustain the program. DPS added that they will do everything they can to avoid reassignments or layoffs.

Anyone in Durham under the age 18 can receive the free meals. For more information, visit the DPS website.

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